Proponents of a strong anti-jihadist national security policy (Right Turn included) struggle to figure why so many Republicans have abandoned common sense and now side with the far left in seeking to rip out proven anti-terrorism programs.
Former prosecutor Andy McCarthy contends, rightly I think, that defenders of the programs haven’t done the best job explaining them to the public:
It is entirely understandable that libertarian-minded conservatives should distrust the Obama administration and resist endowing it with unnecessary additional powers. But the NSA programs are not new – they long predate Obama. And they are – the NSA, the administration, and informed members of Congress attest – highly effective efforts to map terror networks and prevent terrorist attacks. They do not ask us to trust the Obama administration. Indeed, the built-in layers of judicial and congressional oversight reflect the fact that the Congresses that first approved these programs were full of Democrats who deeply distrusted the Bush administration.
He concludes, “Being right on the adequacy of the NSA programs’ structural safeguards, and being right on the law, will count for nothing if Americans are not convinced – quickly – that there is a real, material, comprehensible connection between the massive data collection and the prevention of terrorist attacks.”
My colleague Marc Thiessen contends that Republicans are hypocrites, having supported the programs before they didn’t. But many of the loudest critics weren’t around in the Bush years and we must recognize that people do change their minds.
I think what is going on here is not merely a spontaneous reaction to Big Brother. We have to look at the politicians leading the suicidal charge and examine their motives. They set the tone and their reactions and declarations about the lawfulness of these programs influence nervous voters. I take as a given that many of these GOP lawmakers (e.g. Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul) are ignorant as to the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, but they certainly could learn the law and/or defer to more knowledgeable colleagues.
What is happening, I would argue, is that just as Obama’s foreign policy became “whatever Bush did, do the opposite,” many Republicans eager both to lash out at the president and condemn his successor wear their unflinching opposition as a badge of honor. “If Obama is doing it, then it is bad,” may be satisfying but it’s hardly intelligent leadership. Once a few go down this road, more scramble after them afraid they’ll be defined as “not a real conservative.”
This is an opportunity for demagogues who seek praise from the far-right money and pundit machine. But, to be candid, in many cases this becomes akin to a teenager dying her hair purple to get attention and annoy authority figures. In doing so, the psychedelically coiffed teenagers and the Justin Amash‘s do what they do because they are trying to establish their identity and elevate themselves by trashing the adults in the room. To both I would say, grow up. (And to voters I would say, this is who you want representing you?)
Alas, purple hair is essentially harmless while unilaterally dismantling our anti-terrorism architecture is dangerous. Too often pro-defense lawmakers refuse to engage their opponents directly (Where is Marco Rubio?) or they do so in ways that don’t endear them to the public (“wacko birds”). Ironically it was a governor, Chris Christie, who finally pushed back with the salient argument that this stuff is there for a reason and if you’ve lost track of that come visit some widows and orphans in New Jersey. (Whatever his shortcomings, you gotta love Christie when he exhibits no tolerance for fools.)
There are qualified and articulate Republicans in the House and Senate who need to make the case day in and day out, explaining that ire at the president doesn’t warrant endangering their fellow citizens.